15:14 PM

TEXAS Grant Symposium a Great Success

Monday, May 23, University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) hosted "The Evolution of the TEXAS (Towards EXcellence, Access and Success) Grant Program," symposium in the UHD Welcome Center, Travis Room.

UHD Interim President Michael A. Olivas delivered opening remarks and welcomed keynote speaker Senator Rodney Ellis, the panel of presenters, and more than 80 guests and representatives from UHD and other Texas universities.

The panel discussion, entitled, "Politics, Implications and Impact," featured Linda Ballard, Texas Association of Financial Aid Administrators (TASFAA) legislative committee representative and Texas Southern University director, Office of Student Financial Assistance; Amaury Nora, professor of higher education, co-director of the Center for Research and Policy in Education, and associate dean for research in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio; Morgan V. McAllister, an alumna and current UHD graduate student in the Master of Science in Technical Communication (MSTC) program; and Fabiola Varela, a recent Houston Community College graduate.

Nora presented first, detailing extensive research indicating a direct correlation between TEXAS Grant recipients and collegiate level success. She emphasized the need to inform students and their families about available financial aid as well as provide assistance navigating the application process.

Ballard followed with a brief history of the TEXAS Grant program and its impact on disadvantaged students. She affirmed the research, adding that students who have received an impactful amount of funding demonstrated a substantial change in attitude and improved academic performance. Ballard attributed this in part to reduced stress associated with a lessened financial burden.

Both Nora and Ballard reinforced the importance of work-study programs, which pair students with mentors while immersing them in a positive learning environment, combining work-study with scholarship and grant assistance to reduce expenses and loan debt. Varela and McAllister spoke to the benefits of work-study programs, and discussed how scholarship and TEXAS grant assistance enabled them to attend college and graduate with minimal to no debt.

During a brief Q&A session, attendees asked questions ranging from, "Who oversees the allocation of grant funds?" to, "How will the changes to minimum requirements effect the students most in need of grant funds?"

Sen. Ellis, the founder of the Texas Legislative Internship Program (TLIP), shared his personal story, telling what it was like growing up in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house with five family members in Houston's Sunnyside neighborhood. Ellis credited grant funding for his access to higher education stressing it was vital to his success.

"Access to education is the great American dream," said Ellis. "It made a tremendous difference for me."

Ellis' crusade for education funding for minority and underserved students began 26 years ago when he was elected to chair the Senate Finance Committee. "I made TEXAS grants my priority," he said. Ellis concluded by challenging faculty to continue his legacy, working to provide opportunity to disadvantaged students. Ellis is running for Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner after 26 years serving in the Texas Legislature.

The symposium concluded with a closing reception in the Welcome Center lobby.

The TEXAS Grant, established in 1999, provides financial assistance to academically prepared, underserved high school graduates interested in pursuing higher education.

For those who were unable to attend, the symposium can be viewed in its entirety.